Ushio Shinohara, Noriko Shinohara and Alex Kukai “Love Is A Roar-r-r-r! Plus One”

hpgrp gallery

poster for Ushio Shinohara, Noriko Shinohara and Alex Kukai “Love Is A Roar-r-r-r! Plus One”
[Image: Noriko Shinohara "Cutie and the Strawberry Boxer" (2013) Oil paint and oil stick on canvas, 40 x 30 in.]

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Famed from the Oscar-nominated documentary Cutie and the Boxer, Ushio Shinohara and Noriko Shinohara return to hpgrp GALLERY NEW YORK for their joint exhibition, four years after Love Is A Roar-r-r-r!, their last hpgrp project in 2010. Having conducted a resonant dialogue in Love Is A Roar-r-r-r! In Tokyo, held at the Parco Museum in December 2013, they extend their artistic conversation in Love Is A Roar-r-r-r! Plus One, accompanied by their son Alex Kukai (who is Plus One). Together they demonstrate their versatile gifts, especially the graphic veins that represent their significant family ties.

The exhibition is curated by Reiko Tomii, an art historian who has long worked with this family of artists. She has co-curated with Hiroko Ikegami Shinohara Pops! The Avant-Garde Road, Tokyo/New York, for the Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz, and organized Love Is A Roar-r-r-r! In Tokyo. In her essay, “Graphic Threesome,” published in a brochure accompanying this exhibition, she writes:

For Ushio—or Gyū-chan, as he is affectionately known—the graphic impulse was a vital part of his creativity from the very beginning. Even with his 1960 invention, Boxing Painting, his graphism manifested itself through his action. However, he had to learn to control his overflowing energy, which is a double-edged sword. In 1963, American Pop Art provided him with an opportunity to hone his skills. To create his whimsical yet ironical Imitation Art series, he deployed a set of mechanical tools and techniques (such as stenciling), the use of which he would further refine with the next Oiran series. Intrigued by Japan’s premodern popular culture, the ukiyo-e woodblock print, the Oiran (high-class geisha) became his Marilyn, an iconic representation of female archetype. When Ushio moved to New York in 1969, thanks to The JDR 3rd Fund, among the first works he created in his new home was a gigantic 8-by-8-foot Oiran. A scavenger extraordinaire, he glued together scrap strips of canvas given to him by an artist friend to make a masterpiece. He recently recreated a slightly smaller 7-by-7-foot version for this exhibition which serves as a mini retrospective for his New York works.

Immersing himself in American culture, he soon identified a new iconography and a new material: the Motorcycle Sculpture series made of abandoned cardboard boxes and tubes he found in the Canal Street area where he then lived. In the 1970s and 1980s, as his graphic imagination was unleashed in his paintings and drawings, he began to freely and incongruously combine motifs of American popular culture and everyday life (including “Wild Turkey” or other liquor bottles and yellow cabs) and the themes of Japanese traditional and contemporary culture (such as Jirochō, a righteous yakuza don, and the manga Fist of the North Star). The mixing in a mode that I call “Yankee Japonica” was soon extended to his Motorcycles, which then became literally vehicles to carry his imagination, mounted by a host of characters, from Pokemon to Spider-Man, from Oiran to Asura (a Buddhist guardian demon with three faces and six arms). Now an octogenarian, Ushio has entered his “late-age style.” (I owe this observation to Hiroko Ikegami.) One might imagine a looser Titian or a melting Monet, but Ushio pushes to the extreme his youthful motto, “Be speedy, beautiful, and rhythmical,” to frenetically give physical form to everything and anything that catches his fancy. One of his latest efforts, on display, derives from his Oscar experience as a protagonist of Cutie and the Boxer.

If Ushio’s graphic style is unbridled and full of bravado, Noriko’s is seemingly effortless but well studied. Observant movie viewers may have noticed the brief pause that she took before running her brush over a drawing sheet to give life to Cutie, as captured by the director Zachary Heinzerling in his documentary film. We can no doubt agree that the biggest star of the film is Cutie, a cartoon-like alter ego that Noriko invented in 2006. Although Noriko once made her tortured married life into a fictionalized novel in Japanese (Sighing in New York, 1994), Cutie gave her not only confidence as an artist but also a license to mix reality and fantasy, to tap into her life as creative inspiration. She began to prepare drawings and episodes of Cutie’s life to produce a graphic novel. (The project is yet to be realized.) She used some of these narrative ideas to create an artist’s book and a set of ingeniously decorated “houses” modeled after a souvenir wine box which she had bought at an airport shop in Paris. Then came the last hpgrp exhibition with Ushio in 2010. Offered a medium-size room all to herself, she decided to create a 64-foot-long mural that covered the entire walls, portraying the story of Cutie who married Bullie and gave birth to Gaminerie (respectively representing Ushio and Alex Kukai). For this exhibition, she will create another full-room mural as a prequel. It will begin with the meeting of Cutie and Bullie, continue with her hopeful dream for the future and setbacks in reality, and conclude with her fateful “transformation from a naïve girl into a strong yet innocent woman with super power.” Some scenes were memorably adapted into the documentary in the medium of animation. This immensely pleased her, because it is her secret dream to turn the graphic novel into an animation film. With this mural, she put Cutie back in her pictorial queendom, deploying a few strategies she has since developed. In one, Cutie takes on certain popular female personas, such as Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. In another, also in the mode of appropriation, Cutie enters Western masterpieces, impersonating, say, Raphael’s Madonna della Seggiola, holding a crying Baby Bullie.

Their son, Alex Kukai is a versatile artist who makes paintings, drawings, sculptures, and comics, among other things. He recalls that growing up under these artist parents was a “lucky nightmare,” as can be easily imagined from Cutie and the Boxer. He certainly benefited from his upbringing. Just like his parents, he is blessed with a graphic gift. Since his childhood, “to draw was to breathe for him,” observes his mother. But what sets him apart from the parents is his “very strong wrist,” in the loving and proud words of his father. His “strength” is amply demonstrated by many of his recent drawings marked by precise and sharp lines. Another factor that distinguishes him in the family is his intimate knowledge of street culture of New York. Indeed, he was part of it as a teenage tagger, experiencing the “chaos and interracial voice” of the city. Having left a life of street art behind, however, he incorporates elements of street art, hip-hop music, and underground culture into his practice. His balloon letters, for example, adorning his canvases, drawings, and comic books, as well as Skateboard Paintings, reveal an inspired sense of design imbued with edgy yet often buoyant feelings. In this exhibition, this last characteristic is highlighted to show aspects of his art more tender than raw, more about affect than effect, in the sometimes conflicting directions he has pursued. The selections feature three mediums. In the painting series of Kendō (meaning “sword practice”), his thin, scratchy, and layered—in other words, graphic— use of oil paint brings about an effect of subdued light in the physically taxing subject. A group of drawings, along with the paste ups for a How2Draw comic book, embodies his graphism in an unadulterated form, both simplified and complex. Small enigmatic clay sculptures are experimental in nature at this stage, but exquisitely contorted bodies form drawings in space, while their faces (and those of other still bodiless heads) are expressively blank.



from September 25, 2014 to October 25, 2014

Opening Reception on 2014-09-25 from 17:00 to 20:00

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